L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa is a temporary non-immigrant visa which allows companies to relocate foreign qualified employees to its U.S. subsidiary or parent company. The qualified employee must have worked for a subsidiary, parent, affiliate or branch office of the company for at least one year out of the last three years. The U.S. company must be a parent company, child company, or sister company to the foreign company. The L-1 visa may also include non-profit, religious, or charitable organizations.

The L-1 visa is a good way for small or start-up overseas companies to expand their business and services to the United States. This is advantageous to smaller companies because it allows for the transfer of a highly proficient manager or executive who has direct knowledge of operations, allowing the setup of a new branch in compliance with the goals and objectives of the company’s main office. However, since the USCIS will scrutinize L visa petitions filed by lesser-known companies more closely, professional consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer is strongly recommended for these types of small businesses.

L-1 visas can also be used by multi-national companies. When a multi-national company is developing a new market in another country, it may become necessary to have some employees with specialized knowledge work in the newly established office. Furthermore, such companies may have policies of international rotation of managerial level personnel to assure that all key personnel within a company have equal opportunity for career advancement when an appropriate position becomes open in any location around the world. Cross-fertilization of ideas among high level employees and executives enhances a company’s competitiveness; this exchange often results in innovation essential to a company’s reputation and development. A regular rotation of key personnel improves and ensures uniformity of service and procedure within the company at a global level.

Whatever the case may be, the L visa is specifically designed to facilitate the needs of intra-company transfers by companies. There are two different L-1 visa classifications: L1-A and L-1B.

L-1A visas – Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager


L-1(a) visas are designed for intra-company executive transferees coming to work in the United States. The L-1A visa holders must have been employed in an executive or managerial capacity for the foreign company at an overseas location continuously for at least one year out of the past three years. In addition, the L-1A visa allows a company which does not currently have a U.S. office to send an executive or manager to the United States in order to establish one. L-1A visa is granted initially for oneyear for a new company in the US or three years for a US company with more than one year in existence, with extensions available in two-year increments, with a total stay not to exceed seven years.

L-1B visas – Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge


L-1(b) are designed for professional employees with specialized knowledge. An example of specialized knowledge personnel would be an individual who possesses proprietary knowledge about a company’s product and who travels to the U.S. to impart his or her specialized knowledge to new U.S. employees. In addition, companies who currently do not have an office in the United States can use the L-1B visa to send over an employee with specialized knowledge to help establish one. An L-1B visa is issued initially for three years with one two-year extension for a maximum of five years stay.

In both cases, the U.S. company and foreign company must be related in a specific way such through a parent/subsidiary relationship or through an affiliated employer.

L-1 Blanket Visa


The USCIS has provided a special set of procedures to be used by companies that are frequent users of the L-1 visa category and are large multi-national organizations. This is called the “L-1

This is called the “L-1 Blanket Petition Program”. Under this program, the approved company need only receive one approval from the USCIS to transfer a certain number managerial, executive and professional employees.

On completing the maximum allowable period, the L-1 holder must leave the United States for minimum of one year and must work for foreign operation of the U.S. Company before becoming eligible to reapply for an L visa.

Full-time employment is not required to maintain L visa status, but the employee “must dedicate a significant portion of time on a regular and systematic basis” to the company while in the U.S. Even though the L1 visa holder must be employed on a full-time basis with the company, foreign worker does not necessarily have to be working in the U.S. on a full-time basis. Foreign worker is allowed to divide work between the U.S. and home country. In other words, the foreign worker can be principally employed outside the U.S. and still receive L1 visa for coming to the U.S. to work on a short-term basis.

Spouses of L-1 visa holders may apply for work authorization with USCIS to work in US without restriction.

One of the privileges of the L1 visa, as opposed to many other nonimmigrant visas, is that it is a ‘dual intent’ visa. In other words, under the terms of the L-1 visa, the L-1 visa holder may apply for a Green Card and become a permanent resident without jeopardizing his/her L-1 visa status or their visa applications from a U.S. consular office abroad.

General Requirements for L-1 Visas

The L-1 visa is a temporary, non-immigrant visa which allows companies to relocate foreign qualified employees to its U.S. offices from a subsidiary, parent, affiliate, or branch office of the company abroad. There are several different types of L-1 visas. L-1A visa is specifically designed for intra-company executive or manager transferees. The L-1B visa is designed for intra-company transfers of employees with specialized knowledge. For more information on the L-1 visa program, see the Code of Federal Regulations or visit the USCIS web page.

Specific Requirements for the L-1 Employer

  • The company must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company, such as a parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate. These are collectively referred to as qualifying entities. 
  • The company must also be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1. While the business must be viable, there is no requirement that it be engaged in international trade. Doing business refers to the regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization and does not include the mere presence of an agent or office of the qualifying organization in the United States and abroad.

Some of these requirements are easy to meet and do not require extensive documentation, especially if the employer is well known and a well-established company. However, when the company is small or just beginning, the employer should be prepared to provide extensive documentation to establish their eligibility for the L-1visa. We therefore strongly recommend in this case that they seek the professional services of an experienced immigration attorney.

Specific Requirements for the Employee: L-1A

  • The employee must have worked abroad for the overseas company for a continuous period of one year during the preceding three years before admission to the United States.
  • The employee must have been employed abroad in an executive or managerial position, otherwise known as a qualifying position. For more information on qualifying positions,
  • The employee must be coming to the U.S. company to work in an executive or managerial position. According to federal law, executive capacity generally refers to the employee’s ability to make decisions of wide latitude without much oversight. Managerial capacity generally refers to the ability of the employee to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization. It may also refer to the employee’s ability to manage an essential function of the organization at a high level, without direct supervision of others.
  • The employee must be qualified for the position by virtue of his or her prior education and experience.
  • The L-1 visa holder must intend to depart the United States upon completion of his or her authorized stay.

Specific Requirements for Employee: L-1B

  • The employee must have worked abroad for the overseas company for a continuous period of one year during the preceding three years before admission to the United States.
  • The employee must be seeking to enter the United States to render services in a specialized knowledge capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations.
    • Specialized knowledge is beyond the ordinary and not commonplace within the industry or the petition organization. In other words, the employee must be more than simply skilled or familiar with the employer’s interests. This specialized knowledge can refer to the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets. Or, it could refer to an expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.
  • The L-1 visa holder must intend to depart the United States upon completion of his or her authorized stay.

Following the 2004 Visa Reform Act, an L-1B non-immigrant will be in violation of status if they are stationed primarily at the worksite of an employer other than the petitioner, and if one of the following occurs:

  • The alien will be principally under the control and supervision of the unaffiliated employer, or
  • The placement at the non-affiliated worksite is “essentially an arrangement to provide labor for hire for the unaffiliated employer,” rather than placement in connection with the provision of a product or service for which specialized knowledge specific to the petitioning employer is necessary.

For more information on these new guidelines, see the July 25, 2005 USCIS memo.

Additional Requirements for New Offices

One of the benefits of the L-1 visa program is that it allows companies the opportunity to re-locate employees to the United States to expand their business and open up new offices. For foreign employers who want to send an L-1 visa holder to the United States for the purpose of establishing a new office, the following criteria must also be met:

  • The company must have secured a sufficient physical premise to house the new office. The new U.S. office will support the said executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge position within one year of receiving petition approval.

The L non-immigrant visa category is one of the most useful tools available to international companies who need to bring qualified foreign employees to the United States. L visa holders do not have to maintain a foreign residence during their U.S. stay and are eligible to seek permanent residency status if they wish. Since the L visa is  a dual intent visa, L status holders may file a petition for permanent residency status without jeopardizing their L status or their L-1 visa applications from a US Consular Office abroad.

The L-1 visa category also allows for intra-company transferees to bring their family to the United States with them. Family members of the L-1 alien, classified in the L-2 category, may be granted employment authorization to work in the United States after being granted an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). An EAD is a document that allows an alien to work in the United States for a specific time, usually one year. The primary L-1 visa holder does not need an EAD to legally work for their L-1 sponsoring employer in the U.S. because their visa is employment-based, whereas their dependent family members’ is not.

If the basic requirements for an L-1 visa are met, the company can gain access to the many advantages of the L visa category, which they might not have been able to utilize on another type of visa.

Compared to an E visa

An E is another type of employment based non-immigrant visa that can also be used by small business owners or small companies to bring owners or employees to the United States. However, the E visa category is designed solely treaty traders and treaty investors who come to the United States to engage in trade between the U.S. and the country in which they are employed.An E visa is available only when the following three conditions are met:

  • A treaty must exist between the United States and the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought;
  • Majority ownership or control of the investing or trading company must be held by nationals of the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought;
  • Each employee or principal of the company who is seeking the E status pursuant to the treaty must hold citizenship of the country under whose treaty the status is sought.

At the present time, there are many countries that do not have such treaties with the United States. For those countries, an E visa is simply not available and an L visa might be a good alternative.

Compared to a B visa

A B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa is used by alien visitors coming to the United States for short business trips on behalf of an overseas employer. Generally speaking, a B-1 visa can be used for some business activities such as the opening of bank accounts, acts of incorporation, signing of contracts, and the like. In order to obtain a B-1 visa, you must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • The purpose of your trip is to enter the United States for business of a legitimate nature
  • You plan to remain for a specific limited period of time
  • You have the funds to cover the expenses of your trip and your stay in the United States
  • You have a residence outside of the United States in which you have no intention of abandoning, as well as other binding ties which will ensure your return abroad at the end of the visit
  • You are otherwise admissible to the United States

Just like an L-1 visa, a B-1 visa may be particularly helpful during the early stages of setting up a new U.S. business.

However, there are downsides to the B-1 visa category that might make an L-1 visa more preferable for many employers, especially if the alien worker will need to stay in the country for an extended period of time. Technically, the duration of authorized stay for a B-1 holder isup tosix months, with an extension of stay up to another six months. The duration of stay is decided by the immigration officer at the time of the visa holder’s entry into the country. In reality, most B-1 visas are approved for less than six months at a time and only in rare circumstances would a period of entry exceeding six months be granted. As the B-1 visa is a temporary business visitor visa,  the visa holder cannot legally work in the United States. Unless another type of visa with employment authorization is obtained, employment under B-1 is a violation of status. This means that when business activity has advanced to such a degree that it constitutes local employment, the B-1 holder will be at risk of violating their status.

B-1 holders may change their status to another non-immigrant status, such as H-1 or B-2, but it is important to note that they should be cautious when doing so (if they apply for a change of status in a short period after their entry to the US with a B-1 visa). The USCIS considers using the B category as a stepping stone to a different non-immigrant status solely for the purpose of avoiding the more stringent application procedures associated with the new status to be improper and fraudulent. Serious ramifications, including the possibility of deportation, may result. This is another reason why, if a non-immigrant worker wishes to stay in the United States or their employer needs them to be here for an extended period of time, it is better to use the L-1 visa program.

Compared to an H-1B Visa

The H-1B non-immigrant visa program is designed to allow U.S. employers to recruit highly specialized foreign employees to live and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. An H-1B visa is very similar to an L visa in many aspects, such as the limitation on the accumulated authorized period of stay and petition procedure. Those on H-1B visa program are only authorized to stay in the United States for a maximum of six years. Similar to the L visa, an H-1B petition is filed by the employer on behalf of their employee and is dual intent, meaning that the visa holder can petition for permanent resident status without jeopardizing their H-1B status or their visa applications from a US consular office abroad. The major difference, however, is that the employment privilege granted to an L visa holder, in theory, cannot be substituted by a U.S. worker. Under an H-1B visa, the employer must guarantee that their specialized alien worker is receiving the prevailing wage for their position in the geographic area they are working in. Since a non-immigrant in the L category is here on behalf of their foreign entity, an L visa holder is not required to be paid the prevailing wage for the position he or she assumes. Furthermore, the H-1B visa is subject to an annual quota and requires a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, one does not need a degree for the L visa, nor is the L visa subject to an annual quota.

EB-1C category considerations

Another benefit of the L-1(a) visa is that it can provide a stepping stone to lawful permanent resident status. A specific employment-based immigrant preference category (EB-1C) was created for managers and executives who meet the L-1 standards and are interested in becoming lawful permanent residents. These aliens are considered “priority workers” in the first preference, which is allotted 40,000 annual immigrant visas. Although L-1A status is not a prerequisite for immigrant benefits in this category, the immigrant petitioner’s prior L-1A status provides a stronger case for the EB-1C immigrant petition.